Wednesday, 28 November 2007

No landing, no crash

For a few hours on Monday it looked like the orange-blue parties had finally reached an agreement about handling nationalistic issues under a new government. Then the Flemish nationalist N-VA decided that the last proposals of formateur Leterme were not enough. Yves Leterme, the two assembly presidents and the four party presidents of Flemish and Walloon Christian democrats and liberals met again on Sunday evening, in a restaurant in Asse, a Flemish village to the northeast of Brussels. Although afterwards no breakthrough was announced, there apparently was one. Leterme had presented a new detailed text about how to proceed with all nationalistic questions under the next orange-blue government. Some issues that need only a simple majority would be handled swiftly. Other reforms that need a two third majority – and therefore the support of some opposition parties – would be submitted to a parliamentary Convention (see Seconds from disaster). Leterme proposed a ‘menu’ of issues that could be discussed in the Convention. Among these, after long discussions, the possibility to introduce regional fiscal rebates. Not quite the fiscal autonomy the Flemish demanded, but not really the refusal of the Walloons to speak about the subject either. Above all it seemed a deadline was agreed on: constitutional reform would have to be at least partially successful towards the end of 2008. If not, the government agreement would become more or less invalid. If anything, this proposal made clear that an eventual orange-blue coalition will have to debate almost permanently about nationalistic issues, as the thorny issue of the electoral district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde will also come back to the government table in a few months. Surprisingly both Walloon parties accepted Letermes scheme on Monday, followed, with only slight hesitation, by the Flemish liberals. The Flemish Christian democrats (CD&V), Letermes party, also nodded yes, although their president, Jo Vandeurzen, conceded it was mostly because party leaders are simply fed up with the never ending negotiations. The formateur himself went to King Albert at noon. All this made the spots turn towards the N-VA, the junior cartel-partner of CD&V, who held its party bureau on Monday evening, hours after the other ones. At the end its party president Bart De Wever (picture) in a somber mood announced that he had made up a list with a few bottlenecks on which he demanded clarifications from the formateur. Tuesday was a day of discreet talks in which everybody took care not to break the furniture. In the evening Leterme met the party presidents again in an unknown place around the parliament. He there seems to have proposed to discuss the budgetary questions again – to broaden the basket of possible compromises - and that meanwhile he would try to find a new way out of the deadlock on the nationalistic issues. But most of the party presidents around the table, clearly fed up with the discussions inside the cartel of CD&V and N-VA, demanded that the nationalistic issues should come first. Leterme accepted. So, after 170 days, come and see for another few weeks. At least.

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